Some saints seem to be able to help us with the problem of chastity more than others. Chastity is not merely abstaining from sex, or being modest, but an entire attitude of loving God first and putting His Bridal Love at the center of one’s being.
Chastity may be seen as a type of mortification. Mortification merely means penance, like fasting, or not indulging in ordinary enjoyments or entertainments.
Sometimes, a person may be called to mortification and not understand what that means in daily life. Being chaste involves the way one relates to other people, not manipulating them in a physical way, which is why modesty, another aspect of humility, grows out of a chaste soul.
If one persists in immodesty, one has not become humble.
St. Alphonsus seems to be a saint who understands love and the battle even holy men and women have to fight with regard to remaining chaste in body, imagination, will, intellect, soul.
His words from his book The Chastity of Mary help one focus on this virtue, sadly missing from so many cultures.
St. Alphonsus guides one by referring to the means of encouraging and growing in a chaste mindset. One can follow these simple aids and become chaste in heart, mind, soul. In modern society, one must get into the habit of avoiding unchaste pictures, movies, websites, games, books, people. Yes, one must have custody of the ears and eyes.
Fasting creates a inner strength, which aids a person fighting the battle of chastity. St. Alphonsus gives us the example of Mary, Our Mother, as being the greatest saint of chastity. This Virgin of virgins, this holy Mother of mothers, and Sister of sisters, leads us to Christ through chastity.
But, one of the aspects of chastity which I just discovered through an insight is that part of chastity is giving up the desire to be loved and giving up the desire to love another person other than Christ, the Bridegroom.
I did not realize until very recently that the human desire for love impedes the growth of the virtue of chastity. Virtues grow in strength through practice, and through understanding. Reason and grace, behavior and thought become purified through chastity.
Chastity become the penance of giving up on desiring human love. In this manner, chastity is like humility, the virtue which allows one to no longer want to be loved by humans, and allows one to rest in being ignored emotionally, psychologically, physically.
Giving up the desire to love may be harder for some. To love someone brings great pleasure and confidence, like the pleasure and confidence of being loved. To give up both the desire to be loved and to love entails mortifying one’s desires and even one’s thoughts.
Therefore, chastity becomes a penance, not just a positive virtue one gives to the Church, but a mortification.
This double-sided jewel, chastity, frees one from both desires to receive and to give love.
Only in Christ is chastity fulfilled, through the Bridal Love of Jesus, Who truly wants this type of relationship with all human beings.
In marriage, one loves another by willing this love of Christ to go out to the other, and if there are children in the marriage, to the others.
In celibacy, one loves the Church, and those to whom Christ brings to one to love, without any expectation of returned love.
Loving without expectation may be called sacrificial love, only possible in and with the grace given to one by Christ.
When a person decides to be chaste, that person decides to let God’s love be all in all, and one begins not to desire human love at all, of any kind, including friendship or intimate love.
St. Alphonsus writes this about the three means to help one attain a chaste mind, body, soul:
These means are three, according to Bellarmine and the masters of a spiritual life: fasting, the avoidance of dangerous occasions, and prayer.
1. By fasting, is to be understood especially mortification of the eyes and of the appetite. Although our Blessed Lady was full of Divine grace, yet she was so mortified in her eyes, that, according to St. Epiphanius and St. John Damascene, she always kept them cast down, and never fixed them on anyone; and they say that from her very childhood her modesty was such, that it filled everyone who saw her with astonishment. Hence St. Luke remarks, that, in going to visit St. Elizabeth, she went with haste, that she might be less seen in public. Philibert relates, that, as to her food, it was revealed to a hermit named Felix, that when a baby she only took milk once a day. St. Gregory of Tours affirms that throughout her life she fasted; and St. Bonaventure adds, “that Mary would never have found so much grace, had she not been most moderate in her food; for grace and gluttony cannot subsist together.” In fine, Mary was mortified in all, so that of her it was said my hands dropped with myrrh. [Cant. 5:5]
2, The second means is to fly the occasions of sin: He that is aware of the snares shall be secure. [Prov. 11:15] Hence St. Philip Neri says, that, “in the war of the senses, cowards conquer:” that is to say those who fly from dangerous occasions. Mary fled as much as possible from the sight of men; and therefore St. Luke remarks; that in going to visit St. Elizabeth, she went with haste into the hill country. An author observes, that the Blessed Virgin left St. Elizabeth before St. John was born, as we learn from the same Gospel, where it is said, that Mary abode with her about three months, and she returned to her own house. Now Elizabeth’s full time of being delivered was come, and she brought forth a son. [Luke 1:56] And why did she not wait for this event? It was that she might avoid the conversations and visits which would accompany it.
3. The third means is prayer. And as I knew, said the wise man, that I could not otherwise be continent except God gave it … I went to the Lord and besought Him. [Wisd. 8:21] The Blessed Virgin revealed to St. Elizabeth of Hungary, that she acquired no virtue without effort and continual prayer. St. John Damascene says, that Mary “is pure, and a lover of purity.” Hence she cannot endure those who are unchaste. But whoever has recourse to her will certainly be delivered from this vice, if he only pronounces her name with confidence. The Venerable John d’ Avila’ used to say, “that many have conquered impure temptations by only having devotion to her Immaculate Conception.”
O Mary, O most pure dove, how many are now in Hell on account of this vice! Sovereign Lady, obtain us the grace always to have recourse to thee in our temptations, and always to invoke thee, saying, “Mary, Mary, help us.” Amen.